Around the world, millions of people are receiving vaccinations as part of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Our World in Data measures that approximately 26.2% of the world’s population have received at least one out of two doses of the vaccine. However, only 1% of those vaccinated are from low-income countries. What does this mean?
As global vaccine rollout plans take action, there is an issue that is being driven away from the public eye. That is the issue of inequality. This article does not disregard the success of vaccination programs happening worldwide, and the scientific advancements vaccines are providing for the health care system. It does, however, bring to light concerns about the focused mindset of getting the vaccine so that the general population can return to their regular lives when those from low-income backgrounds continue to struggle. An intense focus on the vaccine as an object, and a “cure” to be able to get back to normalcy hides the underlying factors that could have contributed to the spread of the virus, such as weak political systems, deteriorating health care systems and lack of access to resources. Low-income countries are still struggling to contain the virus, or now, struggling to meet vaccination demands, while other populations do not need to worry about the availability of vaccines.
Take New Zealand and Brazil, as an example. In December 2020, according to the Beehive website, the New Zealand government announced that they have purchased enough vaccines for “every New Zealander” that will be administered for free to the public. On the other hand, the BBC recently reported that Brazil is now struggling to administer the second dose of the vaccine due to lack of supply and lagging shipments. According to Ana Ionova’s report on the BBC, some believe that an underlying political struggle is to blame for the stunted vaccine rollout. This is just one example that shows, no matter how well developed the vaccine may be, the success of its administration is dependent on those who can administer it and the resources that are made available to them.
Part of the problem of why inequality exists is that when crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic occur, there is a tendency to focus on an object and view it as the remedy to overcome the problem, rather than looking at the underlying structural factors that may have caused the issue to occur or spread in the first place. This is evident with the COVID-19 vaccines. Politically, leaders want to prove that they are capable of managing critical situations which may affect the success of the solution, just as some people in Brazil perceive in the previously mentioned BBC report. Health care systems may not have the capacity to control such crises, which is seen in India, where Dr. Ashish Jha told Independent Television News that hospitals are unable to accommodate patients and there is underinvestment in the health care systems in the country.
So this begs the question, what can be done? ODI author, Sara Pantuliano, writes that crises are windows of opportunity to create change. On the global path to recovery, systemic changes are necessary to improve resilience and the capacity for countries to support their populations. Governments need to address the present inequality and plan steps that can be taken to tackle those inequalities, such as social and economic reforms. This is beneficial for the future of the country, as tackling those underlying issues would increase resilience among populations and trust in the government to do what needs to be done.
Government leaders also need to listen to the warnings and comments of global organizations such as the United Nations (UN) to ensure they are informed of the current global state. For example, a UN report in April 2021 wrote about the inequality regarding the vaccine roll-out where vaccination doses were being administered in predominantly wealthy, developed countries. It brought about social inequalities as those who are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 are the ones living in “poverty, unfavourable living and working conditions, discrimination and social exclusion,” as expressed by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Due to this realization, there is now an international effort, named COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX), where countries from around the world and vaccine manufacturers aim to provide more equitable vaccine programs that do not favour wealthy countries. The same UN report said that this initiative helped the vaccination campaign in developing countries such as Algeria, which received more than 36000 doses from COVAX.
Another possible solution is for the public to open their minds and consider other perspectives. The issue mentioned earlier was that there was an intense focus on just getting the vaccine to return to normal when getting back to normal is not possible for a lot of people. This is not to say disregard advancements and solutions such as the vaccine, but rather to promote awareness campaigns and use their voices to show the inequalities surrounding the issue. Public awareness is important as society has the power to influence political decisions when people show that they care about issues. As mentioned previously, this could also improve resilience and trust in the government when future crises occur.
Crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic reveal underlying issues that may be hidden from the public eye. However, as Sara Pantuliano wrote, these crises could be catalysts for change that is much needed in our society today.